11 Best Rifle Calibers For Precision Shooting
So you got started in long range precision shooting and you're looking for the best precision rifle calibers with outstanding performance and accuracy.
If so you're at the right place. Choosing the right caliber and understand its ballistic performance profile is extremely important if you want to get good.
Please keep reading to find out...
Top 11 Precision Rifle Calibers
Calibers with The Best Accuracy at 1,000 yards
Remington officially introduced a .260 Remington in 1997, but we can trace its roots in the wildcat 6.5-08, well-known cartridge in competition circles. However, it was somewhat a bad timing, since the frenzy for long-range shooting and everything in 6.5mm exploded a couple of years later.
The .260 Rem is an outstanding mid-range cartridge developed from a .308 Win by necking case throat down to .264 caliber. The .264 (6.5 mm) caliber bullets are known as extremely long and sleek projectiles featuring remarkable ballistic coefficients.
Before the arrival of other 6.5mm rounds like 6.5×47 Lapua and 6.5 Creedmoor, the .260 Rem was once the dominant 6.5mm cartridge in competitions out to 1,000 yards.
As an excellent 1,000-yard cartridge with low wind drift and super-flat/straight trajectory, the ‘two-sixty’ flies faster over longer distances.
When you’re shooting a .260 Rem loaded with the ultra-streamlined VLD (Very Low Drag) bullets weighing from a 105- to 110-grain, you can quickly gain velocities around 3,000 to 3,100 fps.
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If you are using a custom rifle and handloaded ammunition, then the .260 Rem projectiles will remain supersonic all the way out to 1,400 yards.
A combination of very light recoil and decent barrel life makes the .260 Rem an outstanding all-rounder.
Considering that, the .260 Remington is equally suitable for the "recoil sensitive" and long-range competitive shooters, where long firing strings are expected.
The .300 Norma Magnum was introduced in 2009, and soon, it has begun to gain popularity in the long-range shooting community.
The .300 Norma Mag emerged by narrowing the .338 Norma Magnum case neck down to accommodate .308 caliber bullet.
Using .30-caliber bullets known for a wide variety and stability, the .300 Norma Magnum shoots flatter than the .338 Lapua with considerably less recoil.
While few authors claimed that the .300 Norma Mag is capable of “20-round groups as small as four inches at 1,100 yards”, some ballistics testing showed that the .300NM equaled the .338 Lapua Magnum out to 2,000 yards.
Those features are granted to the high velocity of 3,000 fps and 230gr Berger Hybrid bullet with an incredible 0.743 Ballistic Coefficient (BC). Berger today made the best long-range bullets enabling .300 Norma Mag to stay supersonic out to 1,640 yards.
When the .300 Norma Mag launches a 220 grains bullet at 3,200 fps, it will generate a whopping 4,400 ft/lbs of energy.
Another caliber with the best accuracy at 1,000 yards belongs to the newer generation of the large family of 6.5mm cartridges and bears the Nosler name, highly respected US ammo manufacturer.
Instead of three digits in the caliber (0.264") of the bullets, the name 26 Nosler refers to the first two digits. The Nosler's family of new generation rounds includes 26 Nosler, 27 Nosler, 28 Nosler, 30 Nosler, and 33 Nosler.
The 26 Nosler (no decimal point) cartridge was launched at the 2014 SHOT Show as a part of the Nosler’s new platform rifle, the Patriot.
Though of modern design, the Nosler’s first proprietary cartridge was based on the old beltless .404 Jeffery case and retained the same length as the .30-06, so it will fit into standard-length actions.
Firing the 129gr bullet with a Ballistic Coefficient of 0.530 at 3,400 fps velocity, the 26 Nosler is designed to be one of the fastest, flattest-shooting mid-calibers on the market.
Loaded with the highest BC .264 caliber bullets, the 26 Nosler keeps heavy bullets supersonic all the way out past 1,500 yards.
Moreover, a manufacturer advertises at 400 yards their 6.5mm projectiles maintain the same velocity as the .260 Remington generates at the muzzle.
While many authors describe it as a 6.5 Creedmoor on steroids, the .26 Nosler wasn’t designed as a long-term target cartridge because of short barrel life and more noticeable recoil.
Actually, the 26 Nosler is developed primarily for long-range hunting in mountainous terrain.
Learn More: Top Ballistic in-Flight Behaviors [With Pictures]
Calibers with The Highest Energy
Winchester introduced .300 Winchester Magnum in 1963 using the necked down .375 H&H Magnum as a parent case.
As a result, the mighty .300 Win Mag features typical bottlenecked, belted Magnum case and overall length of 3.34 inches to fit in standard-length action easily.
Traditionally, the 30 caliber rounds are favorite of many hunters and shooters in North America, and Winchester also jumps on the bandwagon with its "Big 30".
The .300 Win. Mag. accepts 30 caliber (actually 0.309 inches) bullets weigh from 110 to 220 grains and the muzzle velocities range from 2,680 to 3,600fps.
The .300 Win Mag initial loading was 180-grain, and whereas it remains today, shooters use the same weight but with modern bullet construction and improved ballistic coefficient (BC).
However, the heavy bullets with high BC available today are Hornady 208-grain ELD-Match, offering the ballistic coefficient of incredible .670.
This caliber is a favorite of hunters on the big game, but also it is preferred by military snipers. The main reasons are very flat trajectory coupled with a supersonic speed out beyond 1,650 yards.
Besides, the aerodynamic bullet and heavyweight bring the energy that is about one-third of a .44 Magnum at point-blank range.
Besides hunting and military use, .300 Winchester Magnum cartridge is mostly used for long-range cross-country disciplines and 1,000-yard slow fire matches.
.338-378 Weatherby Magnum
The 338-378 Weatherby Magnum started as the wildcat cartridge using the .378 Weatherby Magnum as a parent case by necking it down to .338 inches.
The .338-378 Weatherby Magnum or in metric description 8.6 x 74mm is in the same performance league as the .338 Lapua (8.6 x 70mm).
Both cartridges have been designed as the long-range busters. Still, while the rimless .338 Lapua was made as sniper rifle cartridge with semiautomatic firearms in mind, the 338-378 Weatherby Magnum was developed as hunting style ammo and the biggest .33-caliber long-range commercial cartridge.
Using the larger .378 Weatherby case, the .338-378 get a 20-percent more case capacity than .338 Lapua and thus gained higher muzzle velocity. Accordingly, the Weatherby .338-378 can launch any given projectiles weight out the muzzle faster than any other .33-caliber cartridge.
This high-performance magnum cartridge loaded with the most popular Weatherby factory hunting 250-grain bullet with a BC of .482 can reach a muzzle velocity of 3,060 fps and muzzle energy 5,197-foot-pounds.
While the .338-378 round will still be capable of supersonic velocity at 1,500 yards, it will have 831 foot-pounds of retained energy at the same distance. That's nearly 10% more compared to the .338 Lapua.
The .338-378 Weatherby Magnum is one of the flattest shooting and hardest-hitting calibers, most useful for long-range shooting and transferring energy into targets.
The .300 PRC was developed in 2018 when the US Army announced a competition for the new sniper system that will provide a 50-percent hit chance on a man-size target at 2,000 yards.
The new .300 Precision Rifle Cartridge (PRC) use as a parent case a .375 Ruger, which Hornady ballisticians necked-down to .30 caliber and moved back the shoulder to make a cartridge with very long head height.
While this feature enables .300 PRC to accommodate heavy-for-caliber bullets with a high ballistic coefficient, the extended cartridge overall length of a 3.7″ requires a magnum length rifle action.
Although the .300 PRC and its predecessor .375 Ruger have the same .532″ case head diameter as the .375 H&H, due to the larger in diameter beltless case, both of them provide a slightly greater powder capacity than the .375 H&H.
In comparison to .300 Win Mag factory loads, the 300 PRC ammunition is loaded with either 212gr or 225gr bullets.
Hornady’s PRC’s 212gr hunting bullet is listed at 2,860fps and 225gr match bullet is rated at 2,810 fps keeping it supersonic to almost 2,000 yards.
Using this very-low-drag (VLD) .308″ diameter bullets, the .300 PRC represents the ultimate .300 round for long-range competition.
The best long-range rounds are flat shooting, feature long, aerodynamic bullets and have enough power to go the distance.
Calibers with The Highest Velocity & Best Ballistic Coefficient
Released in 2007 by Hornady's team, the 6.5 Creedmoor is named in honor of the oldest shooting competition in North America, the Creedmoor Match.
The 6.5 Creedmoor is developed from a .30 Thompson Center (.30 TC) case, which is narrowed down to shoot .264″ bullets. A relatively large case capacity enabled the 6.5 Creedmoor to use very long, high BC bullets, without projectiles base intrusion into powder capacity.
Created from the ground up for competition and very little hunting, the 6.5 Creedmoor has several advantages over the .308 and the other .30-caliber cartridges.
Though frequently compared to the .308 Win., the 6.5 Creedmoor is ballistically superior to the legendary "three-oh-eight" largely because of the 6.5mm aerodynamic bullets with an excellent sectional density and ballistic coefficient.
Additionally, the 6.5 Creedmoor has about 30% less recoil than the .308 Winchester and about a 33% longer effective range.
As mentioned, since the beginning of the 6.5 Creedmoor was intended for top competitors in PRS and 1,000-yard slow-fire matches.
Accommodating long, heavy, high ballistic coefficient (BC) bullets, the 6.5 Creedmoor resists wind drift exceptionally well and enables doubled hit probability at 1,000 meters, compared to .308 Win.
For example, at 1,000 yards, the 6.5 CM 140-grain ELD bullet with ballistic coefficient 0.646 has 4 feet less drop when you compare it to the .308 Winchester a .308 Win 168-grain ELD bullet with 0.523 BC.
There are 6.5 optimized long range scopes available, which you can browse here.
In the shortest terms, you can conceive 7mm Remington Magnum as flat- shooting .270 and hard-hitting .30-06 round. It was introduced by Remington in 1962 to the commercial market in an age of "magnum-mania,"
The 7mm Rem. Mag. Was intended to be "the most powerful" among the rounds whose overall length allows the use of a standard (.30-06) length action.
While Remington's Seven-Mag is not necessarily a go-to cartridge for target match shooters, it has excellent ballistics and shoots flat like the 6.5 Creedmoor.
The Remington's belted, bottleneck 7mm magnum cartridge is known as "one of the great all-around rifle rounds" due to the vast selection of genuinely outstanding bullets, in weights from 100 to 180+ grains.
For years the bullet weighing 160 grains was optimum for all-around use, but today ammo makers offer heavier, high-BC match bullets like Berger 180gr VLD bullet with a 0.684 BC.
For example, using a 168-grain VLD bullet with BC of 0.640 and launching it at 3,050 fps, the 7RM will retain more velocity at 1,000 yards than the 165-grain 300 RUM with BC of 0.410.
There are also lighter rounds available with a 154-grain, where BC is .530, and the muzzle velocity is 3,000 fps.
Calibers with The Flattest Trajectory
With origins dating from the pre-war wildcat cartridge known as either the .25 Whelen or .25 Niedner, the .25-06 Remington rifle cartridge is the oldest in our list.
This excellent .25-caliber round was the first wildcat to have been based on the .30-06 Springfield cartridge preceding the development of much more popular the .270 Win round.
This poorly promoted and greatly underutilized chambering is recognized for its strengths as an intermediate shooter round.
The .25-06 is developed by simply narrowing down the case neck of the .30-06 to fit a .257-inch caliber bullet. Combining the large case capacity of its parent .
30-06 case and plethora of bullet weights ranging from 75 to 120 grains, the .25-06 provides excellent ballistics and trajectory for the small game up for the deer-sized game.
Although the .25-caliber bullets belong to a lighter category, they typically have high ballistic coefficients resulting in a perfect wind bucking ability as well as retaining kinetic energy down-range.
The .25-06 Rem offers a flat trajectory, and outstanding accuracy and low recoil for maintaining good shooting habits.
A firing of lightly constructed 75-grain bullets allows relatively high muzzle velocities exceeding 3,700 fps, with less felt recoil than a .30-06 in a similar weight rifle.
If you are looking for the flattest shooting caliber to 500 yards, you should read anything else.
Depending on the caliber you are using, a long-range shooting may be at 1,000 and more yards, but if you are committed to rimfires than 200-300 yards is very long-distance shooting.
One of the calibers with the flattest trajectory is the .17 Winchester Super Magnum, a sub-caliber rimfire cartridge.
The .17 WSM delivers the accuracy and flat trajectory necessary for reliably varmint hunting at ranges beyond 200 yards with very low recoil and minimal noise.
The .17 Winchester Super Magnum 20-gr. bullet boasts a blistering 3,000-fps muzzle velocity making it a laser beam compared to 2,400fps from its slightly older .17 HMR counterpart. When zeroed at 150 yards, the tiny 20-grain WSM projectile will strike just 2.6 inches low at 200 yards.
As for the wind drift, at 200 yards, the .17 WSM has almost reduced in half wind drift compared to the popular .17HMR.
Generating muzzle energy of 400 ft-lbs, this innovative rimfire round easily outperforms all previous rimfire varmint cartridges and duplicate the centerfire velocities and energy in a more affordable rimfire package.
The .224 Valkyrie (5.6×41 mm) is a modern long-range predator hunting cartridge designed primarily to be used in semiautomatic AR platform firearms.
This modern intermediate rifle cartridge released in 2018 by Federal Premium Ammunition descended from the 6.8 SPC and 100 years old a .30 Remington.
To make the .224 Valkyrie compatible with the AR-15 platform, Federal based it on the 6.8 SPC case, which is necked down to accept .224-caliber bullet.
Though loaded in standard 6.8 SPC magazines, the .224 Valkyrie will require installing a new bolt and barrel to fit into your AR-15.
Utilizing the heavier, slender and more aerodynamic bullets than the .223 Rem, the Valkyrie best performs outside 500 yards. Compared to .223 Remington, at the 1,000-yard target, it duplicates the amount of energy of the standard .223 bullet.
When using 90-grain bullets with a very high ballistic coefficient at .563 G1 BC, the 224 Valkyrie is a legitimate three-quarter-mile cartridge.
Its .224-diameter bullet with ridiculously high Ballistic Coefficient (BC) number can maintain supersonic speed and drift less in the wind right up until about the 1,300-yard mark.
Anyway, it was not created as a replacement for the .223 Rem., but the Valkyrie is designed as a specialized cartridge for people who want to shoot an AR-15 at targets beyond 500 yards.
Understanding Bullet BC (Ballistic Coefficient)
In brief, the ballistic coefficient is a mathematical representation of how streamlined a bullet is, i.e., projectile's ability to resist air drag.
As a numeric designation, the ballistic coefficient (BC) is usually described as a number between one and zero.
Is a higher ballistic coefficient better than lower?
Accordingly, the higher ballistic coefficient is better than lower, meaning the bigger the ballistic coefficient number, the better.
A bullet with bigger BC will fly farther and faster than one with a lower coefficient.
How does the ballistic coefficient affect accuracy?
While the ballistic coefficient doesn’t affect accuracy inside of 100 yards, at 300-350 yards and beyond that BC starts to become really important.
The sleek and slender spitzer projectiles with higher BC will have a flatter trajectory and be more accurate at distant ranges.
It's because they have less drop than one with a less efficient shape like a round nose or a flat point bullet.
What is a good ballistic coefficient?
A good ballistic coefficient depends on many variables such as bullet type and shape, weight, or muzzle velocity.
When fired at the same muzzle velocity, a good BC means that projectiles with the highest ballistic coefficient will shoot flatter and have a longer effective range than the others.
Comparing the two of the same caliber but different shapes projectiles, one heavier and a long-for-caliber bullet with a boat tail at the end will have a better ballistic coefficient.
For example, a .308 Winchester round loaded with a 150-grain round-nose .308 bullet and fired at 2,810 fps will have a BC rating of about .186, whereas the same chambering loaded with a 150-grain pointed .308 bullet is rated BC .435.
G1 or G7 Ballistic Coefficient
The BC calculations are made in relation to the particular “standard projectile” shapes by measuring how efficiently they overcome air resistance in flight and how well retain velocity and energy as they travel downrange.
There are the two most common ballistic standards called the G1 and G7. These different models rate the aerodynamic qualities of a bullet from which the drag and BC can be measured.
As the old system for measuring BC, the G1 model is based on a short, flat-bottomed bullet, while the G7 model is based around longer, boat-tailed bullets.
Generally, the prevailing opinion is that the G1 model is more accurate when calculating old fashioned, flat base bullets, while the G7 model should work better with the geometry of a modern match style long-range bullets.
Does the quality of the rifle matter even if using match grade ammo?
These days, with the explosion of long-range shooting interests, many newbies and more experienced shooters strive to achieve tighter groups at 300+ yards using a standard production rifle and typical hunting or service cartridges.
There are a number of a common long-range, dual-purpose rifle chambered in calibers fully capable of making shots at distances up to 1,000 yards and regularly harvest big game with right shot placement.
For more information, please check out "best precision long-range rifles."
As we all know, the long-range accuracy is a combination of the rifle, the ammunition, and the shooter. You may be an outstanding expert rifleman using a match grade ammo.
If you're shooting a military surplus rifle with a worn-out barrel with internal parts that went out of tolerance, precision will remain mere luck and chance.
To conclude, as a superb rifleman, you can make precision shooting at reasonable distances with a conventional rifle and quality factory ammunition.
However, the match-grade ammunition would give the best result if fired from a match-grade rifle purpose-built from the start for the long-range precision shooting.
Nesa Ristic is a military historian enthusiast and hobbyist, war veteran and an avid hunter with more than 30 years of experience.
He began reviewing firearms for publications in the mid 1990s and have been fortunate to make many friends in the industry. He has continuously improved his firearms skills and knowledge, which is a never-ending journey.